Posts Tagged ‘carnivals’

She was fourteen. I was going on seventeen. We hated each other, and we fought. She was out of control, spiraling away from family. I was making plans to leave home forever as soon as graduation rolled around the following spring. She was drinking heavily, immersing her pain in drugs and sex. I blamed her for the anguish I saw in our parents’ eyes when they searched for her or she stumbled home, drunk, again, long after curfew.

There’s a lot I blame myself for: I was the older sister. I should have been an ear for her, but she never felt safe confessing her troubles to me. I was as much an enemy as the parents were, or maybe more: I was everything she was not: the A student, the over-achiever, the college-bound, the “good” girl. I took advantage of that, as only a teenage older sister can.

But there was this one night – this one hallowed evening. She was grounded. There was a carnival in town. She wanted to go; I didn’t. Frankly, I get motion sick and carnivals are *not my thing*. But my parents told me I could take her to the carnival (as if it were a great favor bestowed upon me). So I made an effort: we’d be like we were before drugs, alcohol, sex, and the move to a new town blew us apart. We’d be sisters. We’d have fun.

I can tell you exactly how much Sam cost, 43 years later. The smell of cotton candy. The sounds of the Carnies hawking their games. The array of plates you had to land your dime on to win a prize (and that prize was somewhere in the pen below, peeping and frightened: a duckling).

“I want one,” she declared.

“Dad will never let you keep it.”

“He will if I cry.” She had large, dark brown eyes. She’d gifted me a kitten a couple of years earlier, and I got to keep him because I shed alligator tears and Mom went to bat for me. It was possible, I reckoned.

“I’ll try.” I tossed dime after dime. At ten dimes, I began to hesitate.


“Okay, but only two more dimes. No more.”

He cost $1.20. He fit into a 16-ounce paper cup. He bonded instantly with the human carrying him. She named him “Sam”, after herself. She’d been “Sam” since a backyard baseball game when she was four, and the umpire (a neighbor) gave us all boy names so we could play baseball with the boys (“They’re girls! They can’t play!!”). My “boy” name never stuck, but hers did: she was ever afterward, “Sam”.

And now her duck was Sam.

And Dad was not happy.

And no amount of alligator tears, pleas from me, or any other begging gesture would sway him: the duck would GO. NO DUCK.

It ripped a tear into our family fabric that took ages to mend. Dad took the duck (forever named Sam) to a rancher friend of his, some 60 miles away, near Baker, Nevada. Sam would live and grow old with the ducks in the pond. My sister continued to spiral out of control, feeling unloved, lost, and betrayed. It took me years to understand and forgive Dad myself: what’s a duck worth? Yeah, Dad had the duck’s future in mind, but did he have my sister’s future in mind?

Did my parents understand the small gesture that might have swayed her out of her self-destruction? Did I?

I’ve never forgiven myself for those 12 dimes. I knew better. I knew Dad would not bless the duck. I merely hoped. And I so wanted to have a fun night with my little sister, a moment to remember – fondly.

Tonight, when I was painting this duck, he began to speak to me.

Sam - image is smaller than seen on the screen: 2x3"

I’m forgiven. By my sister and by the duck.

She died before we ever sat down and talked about The Damn Duck (as I refer to him in my memory). I assume she and Dad came to a place of forgiveness as well, as they were close when she died.

They are all gone now: Dad, Deni, the Duck. Sam, however lives on in my mini painting. And my heart. Because at that moment, at age 17, I never meant to betray my sister’s trust. It took me a long time to forgive our father for that betrayal. I got the reasoning right away, but the emotional impact…

I’m not sure I understand his reasoning tonight. It was a duck. It imprinted on my sister. It probably would have had a shortened life if we had kept it and she had to care for it, but… maybe it could have changed her life. Her self esteem.

But if her self esteem had been elevated, would I be aunt to the amazing nieces and nephews i am aunt to?

Maybe Sam was the sacrifice that had to be made for my nieces and nephews to exist. That would be a good reason for a duck to be hatched, sold to a carnival, and purchased for $1.20 in dimes.

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